The public’s fascination with true crime podcasts has infiltrated the crime fiction world with novels like Six Stories and The American Girl leveraging the media to add dimension to their narratives. It was only a matter of time before the young adult writing scene followed. With Sadie, Courtney Summers weaves a true crime podcast so tightly into the novel’s storylines that one truly can’t exist without the other.
The impetus at the heart of this novel is the death of thirteen-year-old Mattie, but it is really the story of her older sister, nineteen-year-old Sadie. It is no accident that the novel is named after Sadie and the lower-case typeface on the cover immediately clues the reader in on how easily and often Sadie is dismissed and minimized. Reading the novel is the pathway to knowing who Sadie is and how she came to be this loyal sister in a chaotic world. Sadie’s stutter is just another way in which this author humanizes Sadie and the tragic life she faces.
Angry over her sister’s murder, Sadie sets out on a quest – a journey rooted in revenge, which ends up becoming a path to visibility and acknowledgement. Sadie wants to kill the man she feels is responsible for Mattie’s death; not just to see justice served, but to be the witness his expiration and be the reason he ceases to exist.
Meanwhile, Sadie’s disappearance (after she has headed out on her quest) worries Mary Beth Foster – the closest thing the girls have had to a responsible adult in their lives. Mary Beth reaches out to West McCray, begging him to focus his true crime podcast on this story and to find Sadie before another tragedy occurs. McCray launches The Girls – the name given to his serial podcast – and he sets out following in Sadie’s shadow and interviewing folks in an effort to uncover the truth behind Sadie’s plan.
Sadie is a dark book, Courtney Summers has no interest in pulling her punches when it comes to documenting the horrific life Sadie and her sister have faced. While it never strays into salacious or gratuitous territory, this is not a book for readers who are easily affected by frank discussions of extremely difficult topics. So, why a young adult novel, you might ask? Unfortunately, this is a reality for far too many of our youth and by presenting a story that mirrors their own, it is a way of saying “we see you and we care.”
Fans of audiobooks will want to move this one to the top of their list. The publisher presents the full text of the book, but the sections that are essentially transcripts of McCray’s podcast are fully brought to life by actors who embody the characters. Add in the music and sound effects and you have an audiobook that feels more like a real true crime broadcast supplemented by a first-person account of incidents from Sadie herself. It’s a marvel to behold and deserves recognition for the extra effort.
Sadie belongs at the forefront of this year’s young adult crime offerings and I hope that award recognition follows in the coming year. Courtney Summers has written a razorblade of a novel with dangerous edges more than capable of slicing to the heart, but at the same time, it is never less than respectful towards the victims and the seriousness of the topics at hand.